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Patrick Vernon
The words 'lest we forget' are not always enough

EARLIER THIS month (March 5), I attended a ceremony to honour overseas-born Victoria Cross recipients from the WW1.

This took place at the National Memorial Arboretum which is the UK's year round centre of Remembrance in Lichfield in Staffordshire.

The centre is situated in the middle of the countryside with over 50,000 trees and 300 memorials for those men and women who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars and modern-day conflicts.

Over 300,000 visit the centre each year which is round by Royal British Legion.

The centre was opened by the Queen in 2007 with a dedicated Armed Force Portland Stone wall which has over 16,000 names of men and women which have been killed on duty as a result of terrorists attack since 1948.

The wall has been designed to allow a shaft of light to fall across the sculpted wreath on the central stone at precisely 11am on the 11th day of the 11th Month.

The wall is a powerful reminder as nation in how we should acknowledge and respect those that have given their life. I was able to find the named of Lance Sergeant Dale McCallum of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday 1 August 2010 whilst commanding his men in an operation to provide security for local Afghan nationals in the Lashkar Gah district of Helmand.

He was born in Jamaica but lived with family in Brent. I also find the name of Drummer Lee Rigby of 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Drummer who was killed outside his barracks in Woolwich in May 2013.

Although 628 Victoria Crosses were awarded during WW1 The ceremony acknowledged 145 men who came from Australia, Canada, Denmark, India, Nepal, New Zealand, Netherlands, Pakistan, South Africa and USA. Special memorial paving stones have been created at the National Memorial Arboretum.

The occasion had speeches from Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Department for Communities and Local Government and Prime Minister David Cameron MP. Sergeant Johnson Beharry VC the second serving office alive to receive a Victoria Cross unveiled 146th stone commemorating overseas-born Victoria Cross heroes.

I felt honoured to be invited to the event and gave me an opportunity to have a chat with Johnson Beharry on the contribution of African and Caribbean to the armed forces, the issues of mental health and post traumatic stress which is now a major health issues for ex service men and women and the case for Walter Tull in receiving his military cross as a officer in the British Army during WW1. I was able to lobby Eric Pickles during lunch about the government response in not acknowledging Walter Tull.

I also spent a number of hours walking around the National Memorial Arboretum and examining as many monuments. However, I could not find one which acknowledged the African and Caribbean contribution to the armed forces apart from one general RAF Commonwealth monument.

Although a number Ghurkhas from Nepal, Indians particularly of Sikh faith did receive Victoria Crosses along with white South Africans, sadly no black person from Africa or the Caribbean received a Victoria Cross. This was due the result of the racism and colonial discrimination in how black people were relegated to menial tasks with very few given the status as an officer. In the vast majority of cases black men were not even not allowed to have weapon which was further compounded with then being paid less than their white counterparts. This treatment was further extended when black soldiers died in the field.

A lot of African soldiers were left in unmarked graves ( this was due not be Christian) with no major roll of their name apart from British or White African soldiers and officers. However, when I was in Nairobi in Kenya last year I did find some inscriptions of names of soldiers who did serve in the West Indies Regiment in a memorial. The War Graves Commission need to address this issue in giving parity of esteem to our ancestors.

It is difficult to rewrite historical wrongs when it comes to memorialisation of war and events when the racial inequalities is still part of this legacy but at least we could have a number of memorials around the country reflecting our contribution.

Last summer, I attended the Black Cultural Archives unveiling of Nubian Jak Foundation's memorial for African and Caribbean contribution from the 18th Century to modern day which has an inscription of all the various African and Caribbean Regiments.

It would be great to have this memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum and also for the government to posthumously award a military cross for the late Walter Tull. Sometimes Lest We Forget is not good enough.

Patrick Vernon is currently producing and directing a documentary called Memories, Monuments and Scars of War: The intangible history and legacy of African and Caribbean communities’ contribution to World War I and II and modern-day conflicts.

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